Monday, June 13, 2011

In Support Of The Tobacco Control Act: Part II

The anti tobacco control lobby argues that the law is too draconian. Seriously, why should that be a source of worry for anybody - unless, ofcourse, one is a potential lawbreaker?

I believe that most of those who go half-cocked over this Tobacco Control Act have not really thought the matter through properly. If they did, it is simple to understand that the law can be said to be draconian only when, and if, it is invoked and enforced. Once you understand that, you will also understand that the law is enforced when it has been broken. This simply means that if you do not break a law, you need have no fear of the law - draconian or otherwise. Unless you are fearful of the certainty that you are likely to break a law one day in the future, no one may stand in dread of any law.

The whole purpose of a law is to deter people from committing offenses that are harmful to society and to thwart actions and behaviors that are undesirable. And, the only law that works is one that is strong and unbending; a law that is enforced rigidly and without exception. Unfortunately, we Bhutanese are a unique lot (as we are so proud to claim!) - we simply refuse to be deterred by any law. In fact, we diligently break every single law that comes into force.

Interestingly, there is something laughable about the claim that the Tobacco Control Act is too draconian. If it were so, how come the law is being broken with such unfailing regularity?

A novice monk by the name of Sonam Tshering was the first to be arrested under the Tobacco Control Act - he was arrested on 24th January, 2011. Since then, despite a continuous stream of news and a barrage of protestations concerning the severity of the punishment, there have been a total of 37 tobacco related arrests as of writing this post - an astounding average of over 9 arrests per month!

If the Act were draconian and if the punishment were as severe as it is touted to be, how is it possible that there is so much disregard for the law? How come people are not cowering in fear and fainting with dread? The only explanation can be that, the law is not draconian enough or, failing that, the Bhutanese people have got to be the world’s most incorrigible and pathological of lawbreakers. Other than that, the only other explanation that I can think of is that the myth that the law is too draconian is nothing more than a fiction conjured up by the idle minds of the Internet troopers that make up the anti tobacco control lobby.

I cannot remember of a more serious law. And, no law in this country has ever been enforced with the resoluteness and effectiveness as that which has been done in the case of the Tobacco Control Act. As I see it, it would be highly irresponsible on the part of this motley of people who oppose the law - to offer the constricted view that the Tobacco Control Act is designed to control consumption of tobacco and to infringe on the personal freedom of the people. The passage and enforcement of this Act goes way beyond that.

The passage and enforcement of an Act of this nature and substance is demonstrative of the fact that our Members of Parliament are serious about their responsibility to the people whose will they must respect and be subservient to. Even while being mindful of the fact that the Act is likely to be unpopular with some section of the population, they still had the courage and the determination to go ahead and do what is expected of them - for the benefit of the society. If this is not proof of their competence and courage, I do not know what is. The Tobacco Control Act is proof that our legislators - the NC and the MPs and the DPT government and the enforcement agencies are capable and willing to take some hard decisions. Therefore, instead of moaning away, as responsible citizens, let us give them support and encouragement to do more in all the areas where we need similar laws. It is not often that the politicians are encouraged to set aside their political agenda and do something truly meaningful and progressive.

We need strong laws to effectively fight such heinous crimes as rape, pedophilia and child molestation. We have been fighting a losing battle against drug abuse, gang fights, chorten vandalism, indiscipline and alcoholism. The reason is simple: our current laws that deal with them are so ineffectual and the punishment prescribed so weak that they fail to deter criminals from committing the offenses.

Let us not give up with the belief that we are beyond mending. We can always try. It is never too late. Just because there are stray instances when it would seem that the law is unenforceable, we cannot give up. This is not Utopia - this is the real world and in the real world, some we lose - but definitely we win some too.

Close on the heels of the denial they suffered in their attempt to introduce the well-intended tax reforms, if this Tobacco Control Act too should suffer defeat, I fear that the government and the legislators will be discouraged from doing things with spirit and boldness. As a result, we will slide back to doing things the same old Bhutanese way - being stuck in the same spot - whirring away like a top, very efficient but without effect - a kidu-centric society. Finally here is a law that means business, a law that has the potential to turn us into a law abiding and disciplined society. And what do we do? We oppose it vehemently. 

........ To be continued


  1. Insightful and inspiring. Thumbs up to you, Yeshey sir! You really "write to care."

  2. Yeshey, spoken from the heart. I applaud your patience to express so articulately your concern which reflects that of the majority of us. Wish you had written them earlier, but better late than never. I am a hundred percent with you particularly your ninth para (I think it's the ninth) regarding the need to have similar laws to deal with these other dreadful crimes against society (drugs, rape, child molestation, etc.). With the TCA, the government has proven that they can come up with and enforce meaningful laws. I do hope they do not bend or buckle under any kind of pressure to carry out "meaningful and progressive" works and continue working towards enforcing laws to curb and prevent these crimes against our society. Tingtibee!

  3. Thumbs up to Aue Yeshi for all your insightful articles.

    I genuinely feel Aue Yeshsy's expertise is required by agency like BNCA to convince the folks about the noble intentions of our TCA 2010.

    I also remember myself writing about the process of law making on my blog once.

    I still firmly believe that If every "undesirable actions" that are "harmful to the society" are considered crime and "offence", we as a nation need to seriously rethink our law making process. because today its Tobacco, tomorrow it could be Alcohol. next may be doma.

    then what?????

  4. For some reason one Dendup Chopel could not post his comments and so sent me the following mail. I am posting it here on his behalf:


    I wrote this as a comment to your post on tobacco part II. But it didn’t work, may be it was too large. So I am sending this as a mail. Thank you

    Sir with due respect, I think the law is draconian because of the dispropotionate punishment that is served to an offender. Think of the Army Captain. The worst that could come to of an armed personnel is court martial. That is a punishment meted out to traitors of the country alone. Even those convicted of corruption, murder and war-mongering get off lighter than court martial. But one incident in his life that nobody thought anything about till a few months ago suddenly merits the worst of fate for him. He is court martialed. Never mind all the services he put in for the country and the people. It would be a pity if the Captain was a person of extraordinary merit and distinction. Things have turned out like this now for him and that is what should be able to put each one of us off. On top of being thus humiliated, he is jailed for three years...a punishment meted out to habitual law-breakers. We could say the same thing of the aircraft engineer, a rare jewel of a profession, and every other otherwise unwitting victim/scapegoat...Any punishment, for that matter reward, must be consummerate with the deed. Granted that those with deliberate intention of smuggling for commercial purpose must be served that minimum of three year punishment. But that certainly wasn't the case in this case, or the case in most of these tobacco indictments. A law must be able to differentiate between this which our law has failed. That makes the law the devil himself, forget his more benign draconian self. The products brought in that can surely be established as for personal use must at best be served out a minor misdemenour sentence. A prison experience is humiliating enough. Quantity doesn't matter in cases of banned substances like drugs, cocaine, heroine. But tobacco is widely accepted worldwide. Even other Buddhist traditions go much easier on tobacco if they donot outrightly propagate it. To treat tobacco in the same breath as those killer drugs is not quite right.

  5. ........ continued

    My proposition would be thus: Either we establish a tobacco outlet in the country from which people could buy legally...ofcourse with a ration in some sort of quota...or we increase the amount of tobacco limit which is too limited for someone already addicted to it. We cannot keep going to jaigoan or flying to bangkok to bring in their supply. For some, it would then become a daily routine. That is absurd. This force people into going against the law. Sir again you said that people are taking on the law, consciously. Which you then argues make the law not draconian. You must remember that we have another ban in place, a ban on plastic. Supposed tommorow this ban comes with the same indiscrimate punishement for those who flaunt it, what can we do. We cannot help using the product because there is no other viable option, not in the first few vulnerable months anyways. People who have always used tobacco cannot suddenly stop using the product. It is not thus with mal-intention that they took on the law. It is just that they could't help it. The Captain and all the other people who got nabbed aren't the only ones who have done it. There are so may people who are very good otherwise, just as loyal as you and me, who would not willingly go against the law, who wouldnt want to go against it, but who have no other reasonable choice. For them, and the flourishing black market suggest we have many of them, the law would make criminals out of them quite uncessarily and with all its ramification. That makes the law draconian. I am sure you will be familiar with the image of a dog being pinned to a wall. He will have no other option but to show his teeth to keep him afloat. Similar is the case with those who took on the law that your article would suggest are habitual law-breakers.

    I am a non-smoker and I would appreciate if nobody uses it, not in places where children are. But i don't think that ban and punishment is the solution to it. We will only manage to supress it at best. If we truly want to make a good society, as the law intends, then we can liberate people above the level of dependency on these substances, not just tobacco, but alcohol, junks, and everything, even pork. A good education that really liberate just might do the trick. A society with high moral, morale and motivation will shun such substances anyway.

  6. ...... continued

    For now, it seems we just want to make a pretense of having these qualities. If we cannot do it, then we had better leave it alone. We have so many other things to do. One of which is fixing the pathetic public transport which engenders the need to have private conveyances. Before the Govt even think about raising the tax, they have to either fix the problem or work out a mechanism with which to fix the problem, with financing done from the increased tax revenue. That surely deserves more attention, determination, and concern of our Honourable MPs. Not to mention the need to fast track our development so that the lesser amongs us could see the day of light sooner than later. We wouldn't like to be seen in the same light as the draconian and dictatorial states brought about by people who claimed they were doing it for the larger public good. International opinion will matter, whether we like it or not. If it wouldn't matter, it would be because we would be too insignificant, like a parasitic bug. And we certainly risk becoming one if we keep engaging ourselves in petty squabbles over the trivial itself while ignoring all the other important works. If we are all able to do all that we are capable of, then we wouldn't need to think of these things. They wouldn't matter then. Goodness will eradicate them anyway. The challenge for us would be to make law that will make such a scenario possible, bot trying to pick a twig mistaking it for the tree.

    Sir I did not intend to engage you in this rambling, but you are bigger than you might think you are and any content you carry on your blog with its big following will carry far reaching impact. So I just wanted to take this opportuniy to put in views which might otherwise be lost...Thank you

  7. i partly agree with you that the law is there to be followed and only those that break it may find the law draconian. However, for me one of the functions of law in a country to create a peaceful and a healthy society. In this regard, I feel any law that is implemented depending upon on the offender can have an adverse effect on the society. While you could argue that law must be enforced fairly it is also important to understand that we do not live in a perfect society and hence concessions must be made to accept this sad fact. The point that I am trying to make is that we should have law that can be implemented uniformly.... your know me very well

  8. Hi Annon,

    I agree with you. However, I think it is not correct or plausible that a law is framed with the intension of selective enforcement. Unfortunately as you agree, this world we live in is not a perfect place and thus, sometimes, flaws are apparent and injustices are seen to be committed. Regardless, the law is always introduced with the intension of bringing improvement to the society.

    Uniformity I think will always remain a Utopian concept. We aspire for it but it has never been achieved anywhere in the world, not even in the most developed and educated societies. As one of my friends use to tell me long time back, crime is not in the committing of an offense, but in being caught at it :) So perhaps those who wish to commit a crime while still being aware of a law against it, they had better learn to be better criminals hahaha.